Monday, 23 July 2018 | Pioneer | in Edit– No-trust vote debate established the contours of the 2019 narrative for both BJP and Congress Spare a thought for the Telegu Desam Party (TDP) which actually moved the no-confidence motion against the BJP/NDA Government on the issue of ‘unfair treatment and non-fulfilment of promises’ to Andhra Pradesh after its bifurcation. The debate on the motion was kicked off by its impassioned MPs, the issue got a passing mention from the main speakers of the BJP and the Congress, but that was about it. The two national parties, as expected, virtually took over the debate and the gladiatorial aspect of Indian politics was on full display as the campaign for the 2019 General Election with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi holding centre-stage effectively began on Friday. Stage, perhaps, being the operative word. Gandhi’s hug and wink aside — which did come across as childish, immature and too-clever-by-half behaviour which made most cringe in embarrassment but may play well with a less-discerning demographic especially on social media — the substantive issues raised were on expected lines. Rahul Gandhi’s attack on the Government was focussed on the individual heading it, the Prime Minister. Though light on data, it can be argued that this strategy was not a bad idea in terms of agenda-setting because of tactical reasons — he had about half the time Modi did because of the Congress’ depleted strength in the Lok Sabha and statistics can always be countered with more statistics by the other side especially when the other side in in Government. Strategically, it was, as the Prime Minister also alluded to in his reply to the no-trust motion which the Government sailed through with a two-third majority, an attempt to test the waters for the acceptability of his being the Prime Ministerial face for the Opposition. On both counts, his supporters are clear that Rahul pass ho gaya though no such indications came from the stronger regional parties. Of the five broad issues Gandhi raised, some struck a chord while others will be subject to the law of diminishing returns. On Rafale, the blowback was immediate. On the Jumla Strike moniker he bestowed upon the Prime Minister’s hyperbole, Modi pulled out the soldiers’ sacrifices card in his reply and more will surely follow but Gandhi did succeed in making his point; overplaying this discourse, however, may not work — after all, which politician doesn’t coin and use slogans in campaigns? On jobs, Gandhi scored given the gap between expectation and delivery though much has been done to formalise the economy and employment including promoting entrepreneurship. On Modi’s silence of vigilante violence against the marginalised, Gandhi may find that is a double-edged sword because if every act by a loony or misogynist or bigot is ascribed to the Prime Minister not reacting to it, that’s a slippery slope. On loan waivers, Gandhi was right; the Congress has taken the lead in providing this sop to interest groups before successive elections and such is the nature of competitive politics in contemporary India that the Government will probably have to go down the same path of fiscal irresponsibility even if it bankrupts us. Modi’s reply was a masterclass in not letting the personalisation of the debate by Gandhi — he can’t look me in the eye, the gentleman is a tad nervous et al — detain him longer than it takes to swat the proverbial fly. He replied with pointed barbs — naamdaar, the proclivity of first family of the Congress to do in any political competitor who challenges its leadership playing on the can’t look me in the eye number etc — but kept the bulk of his response Prime Ministerial and reeled out data in support of his pitch. In the process, he showed just why he is superman for the simpatico going into the Lok Sabha election.
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